Chennakesava Temple, Belur, Karnataka
Apart from the above-mentioned schools of thought, there are other interpretations of Vedhantha, like Dvaitha-Advaitha of Nimbarkar, Suddha-Advaitha of Vallabha and Achinthya-behdaa-bedha of Chaitanya.
There is also an atheist philosophy called “Charvaka” which believed in the world as it is. Later arrivals are the Jainism and Buddhism, which did not believe in the existence of God and believed in the Upanishadic principles of Atma, Karma, Samsara, and Ahimsa.
Other ancient philosophies are: Samkya (atheistic), Yoga (mind control), Nyaya (Logic), Vaiseshika (atomic), Purva Mimamsa (Orthodoxy and atheist) and Uttara Mimamsa (based on Vedantha)
OM , which is also spelt as AUM, is a mystic symbol of the supreme Brahmam or God. This is used as the first word in an invocation to God It is the first word silently thought of while meditating. It represents the cosmic universe and the cosmic sound. It is all pervasive and all-inclusive.
The Three popular Schools of Vedantha:
Advaitha or Monism:
Adi Sankaracharya was the main proponent of this school of thought. His interpretation of the Upanishadic principles is of non-dualism, i.e., the God, the Soul and the World are one and the same. We are not able to discern this due to ignorance (avidya) caused by worldly illusions (maya). The oneness of God and the Soul will become apparent when the ignorance is removed by eliminating Maya. It is achieved through Jnana Marga (the path of wisdom) the main God in this system is Shiva whose attributes cannot be defined (Nirguna Brahmam).
Vishishtathvaida or Qualified Monism:
Propounded by Ramanuja, this school of Vedantha has Lord Vishnu as the God with well-defined qualities (Sarguna Brahmam). Unlike Advaitha, the God, the Soul and the World are real and distinct but have an interwoven relationship. Vishnu resides in everything and relates to the soul through His consort, Sri or Lakshmi. Followers of this philosophy are called Sri Vaishnavas.
Dwaitha or Dualism:
Madhva's interpretation is of Vedantha is he accepts Vishnu as the Supreme lord but considers the God, Soul and the World as three separate entities and are real. The pathway of salvation is through Bakthi or self-surrender and absolute devotion.
The path of Shiva has three main schools. The Saiva Siddhanta from South India , The Veera Saiva School from Central India and the Kashmir Saivism from Northern India . The common thread is Shiva who is the ultimate God. There is Pasu, the Soul, Pathy the Lord and Pasam the bondage. Mala, the impurities, Maya, the illusion and Pasam, the bondage together cause Avidya, ignorance. When this ignorance is removed, Pasu will meet with the Pathi.
Shiva is worshipped as Lingam to signify his limitless and indescribable nature.
The greatest proponents of devout Saivism are the 63 Nayanmars. Five of them, i.e., Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar, Manivasagar and Thirumular have written a large corpus of deeply devotional Saivite Tamil poetry, which would move the reader to tears.
The two main schools of Vaishnavism are the Ramaanuja and Madhva schools. Vishnu is worshipped as the Supreme Godhead and in the form of his ten Avataars (manifestations). Rama and Krishna are most popular of the manifestations. The Ramayana, The Bagavatham and The Gita are the three main books of re(v)ference. Saints and poets like Thulasidas, Kabir Das, Thukaram, Chaitanya along with the twelve Azhvaars of the Tamil land have chaste poetry in praise of the Lord.
Apart from the above popular Gods and their consorts, there are other categories of divinities worth mentioning here.
They are varied and one needs to consult their family elders about them:
Kula Devatha: Family deities who are worshipped for generations but are mostly forgotten now due to mobilization ad scattering of families world over. Tracing them would be an exercise in genealogy.
Ishta devatha: Deities we fancy most for varied reasons.
Graama Devatha: Village gods and Goddesses. These are deities who protect the village from ravages of nature like floods, famine and diseases like epidemics.
Maatha, Pitha and Guru: Hinduism requires one to worship their mother, father and the teacher as their visible Gods.